When I was a teacher, back-to-school season meant anticipation and preparation. After I left teaching, I was a little more irreverent. “Back to School” meant reflecting on the comedic genius of Rodney Dangerfield and the majesty of “The Triple Lindy.”
*For those of you who aren’t familiar with “The Triple Lindy,” click here …you can thank me later.
This year, as a parent of a first-time middle school student, back to school meant something a little different.
A few moments after I took this picture of my kids on the morning of their first day of school, I asked them if they were ready to go.
My son said, “Well, if you packed cookies in my lunch, I’m good.”
My daughter, on the other hand, broke into tears. A flood of anxiety poured out:
“What if I can’t get my locker open?”
“What if I can’t find my way to my classes?”
“What if I don’t have any friends in any of my classes?”
“Dad, there are dances in middle school. What if a boy asks me to a dance?”
Other than general reassurance, I didn’t have good answers for most of these questions. All I could really say was, “You’ll be fine . . . and if a boy asks you to a dance, tell them your dad won’t let you go dances until you’re 30.”
To my chagrin, she didn’t smile. I wiped away some tears, made sure she got on the bus OK, went to work . . . and worried.
When I got home she was all smiles. I asked, “How was the first day of middle school?”
“Great! Well, not all great. I couldn’t open my locker, and I was embarrassed to ask for help so I just took my whole backpack to my first four classes and pretended that I didn’t need anything when my friends were opening their lockers.”
“Hmmm. . . that doesn’t sound great. Do you need me to come to school with you tomorrow to make sure you can get your locker open?”
“No! Dad, that would be so embarrassing. Plus, my math teacher called each of us up during our pre-test today and asked if we needed help with anything. I told him about my locker situation, and he took me out to my locker and taught me a little trick to remember how combination locks work.”
“So, you’ve got everything figured out, and you’re ready for a great day tomorrow?”
“Well, I’m not as nervous. Our PE uniforms look really stupid, and mine doesn’t fit me, but other than that, I think things will be OK.”
So far, things have been OK. By teaching my daughter a simple mnemonic device, her math teacher relieved a major anxiety and helped her focus on learning (or at least shift her focus to the next anxiety: PE uniforms). I gave him a call Friday afternoon to thank him. Here is what I said:
“Thank you for taking a moment to help my daughter this week. Every kid needs caring adults in their life to succeed, and I appreciate you being one of those adults for my daughter. There is no curriculum, assessment, or instructional technique that can help a kid learn if they aren’t in the right state of mind. Your personal outreach and willingness to help her with a simple thing like opening a locker made a huge impact at a crucial time.”
We had a brief conversation about his summer and the challenges of transitioning from summer back to school. When we hung up, I started thinking about this blog.
As we all dive headlong into the challenges of our back-to-school season, try to take a moment to thank a teacher. It’s a tough job. A little personal attention made a big difference for my daughter. If we give the teachers serving our communities and our children that same attention, we will be that much closer to making the NWEA mission of Partnering to Help All Kids Learn a reality.